So What did Obama do with Fuel Standards Just Now?

May 24, 2009

It looks like these standards will do the following:

1) Impose fuel efficiency standards

2) Impose limits on GHGs from cars and trucks

3) Set a single standard for cars and light trucks, reaching 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Interesting.  Usually global-warming advocates just go for efficiency standards and then expect those to be de facto limitations on GHGs.  My first question is, what limits?  Would it be a total cap on auto emissions every year, regardless of fleet size or total VMT/miles driven?  Or would it be a per-vehicle-per-mile cap, a sort of emissions efficiency akin to fuel efficiency?

The point the article makes is that this announcement represented a deal: the automakers accepted aggressive efficiency standards, and a tighter deadline than the one imposed in the Energy bill of 2007 (2016 vs. 2020), and in return they get a single standard — no more different California standards.

The automakers would never have taken such a deal in the past — they would have dug in their heels and said no to any changes in the standard.  But now, as they subsist on government support to get through the downturn, and without an important ally in John Dingell (who served as their watchdog for so long at the top of the House Energy and Commerce committee), they have a weaker position.

An additional playing card in Obama’s hand was that the Bush administration had refused California’s waiver request, and the Obama EPA is now considering whether or not to grant that request.  California’s standards would have been similarly stringent, and automakers would have had to produce a significant “clean” fleet for that state.


Death of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

March 16, 2009

You know what?  I like it that print is dying.  Good, I think to myself.  Down with print!  Down with that ultimate expression of our love of disposability.  Used once and thrown out, newspapers have carved through forested land for long enough.

The results are utter waste: the papers go right into the trash usually, the land cleared of forests will take decades to recover if it does at all, and most of the words printed are never even graced by a pair of eyeballs.

Oh no they’re not printing — but what’s the loss?  I can look at it online anyway.

Am I wrong?  Is print taking with it the investigative journalists who keep government honest?  Are the payrolls of reporters dying with their old-fashioned medium?  Is the fall of the press really tied to the material, or is it tied to the short attention spans of readers?  Or is it really tied to the investor demand for quicker profits than an old-fashioned newspaper company can provide?

Seattle’s presses stopped for good today; Denver’s did a few weeks back.  Detroit circulates only three days a week now.  Indianapolis shut down its afternoon paper a few years back.  Others are in bankruptcy.

Celebrate!  Consider: if the average newspaper eats up a whole tree for every 1000-to-1500 copies, then the Seattle PI (circulation 117,000 on a weekday) was eating up about 450 trees a week just from the weekday editions.  That fat Sunday paper is far worse, of course, because it’s bigger and because all the glossy stuff is much more paper-intensive and energy-intensive.

So cancel your subscription.  Sure, you can counter that their servers use energy to host the website, so there’s still a carbon footprint to the news biz.  True, but those will run anyway, whether or not you click.  It’s like the bus — it’s already running, so you aren’t adding to the problem by riding it.

But like so many of our dbad environmental habits, we shed them here only to watch them go like gangbusters in China, India, Brazil, etc.  They lurve the newspapers over there.

And they’re gonna keep at it.  Sigh.

Is a Carbon Cap Also a Jobs Program? Or Just Big Government?

March 3, 2009

Just came back from Da Hizill, specifically the Rayburn Hizouse Bizuilding.  (Too much?  Yeah, too much.)  Anyhow, we happened to catch a show put on by EDF, about how switching to clean electricity will actually be a huge generator of jobs.  (Admission was free.)

The pitch goes like this: cutting carbon from electricity use depends on a couple of important steps: switching to clean energy (wind solar tidal hydro etc.) and fixing up the ratty old grid we have out in the garage.  Doing either one means building lots of big stuff — power stations, turbines, new transmission lines, solar arrays, you name it.  That takes parts, which you gotta buy from people who make them, and labor, which you gotta get by hiring people who need jobs.

They even have a whole website thingy about it:

There were also company reps there talking up their own efforts on tidal energy, solar energy, waste heat, and the green-ness of Wal-mart.

Here’s some bullets to take home with you:

  • Those big mammajamma wind turbines have 8,000 to 12,000 parts.
  • EDF’s site shows where all those parts get made, or could get made, in the US of A.
  • Solar panels come in flexy sheets, like 18-foot-long Fruit Roll-ups.  All you gotta do is peel and stick, really.  Well, not really.
  • Big heavy industry plants, that do things like pour liquid metal, etc., spew tons of waste energy.  They also buy tons of power.  Capturing that waste heat reduce their power needs, and can take a lot of dirty generation off line.
  • The tidal-energy guy wishes that his tax credit was as big as the solar and wind tax credits are.
  • Wal-Mart says a lot of stuff, and I don’t know how much to believe, because they are quite evil, and capitalist imperialist pig-dogs.  But they seem sincere about selling lots of stuff, and they seem sincere about cutting their costs.  To the extent the stuff they sell is green, and the costs they cut are energy costs, then hey it’s a win-win, right?  And they’re not totally insincere; EDF has two staffers based in Wal-Mart’s Arkansas HQ, and why would they bother doing that if Wal-Mart wasn’t playing ball?
  • Like always, green issues intertwine with others: new tech needs skills, so we need to educate or import the brainpower.

All this work wouldn’t last for ever — at some point you eventually get done building all this energy stuff, and then what?  But for a decade or more, it would likely be a job-creating stimulus.

The panel generally agreed on two things: 1) it sucks that we’re not leading on green tech, because we’re losing economic activity, and 2) the way to get this jump-started is to put a fat sticker price on carbon emissions.

The panel generally ignored the whole embedded-carbon question — how much carbon emissions go into making all these low-carbon improvements?  Are we just cranking the coal-fired powerplants up to eleven in our enthusiasm to build green stuff?

My takeaway is that there are regulations that drive good economic trends, either by redistributing money to where it creates more economic activity, or by putting burdens where they’re most efficiently met (the minimum wage, social security, product safety regs, stuff like that) and then there are bogeyman regs that just slow things down and gum up the works to avoid a particular problem.

The name of the Green game right now is to prove that clean energy regs are in the first category — they can be designed in ways that drive, rather than suppress, economic activity.  That means showing that over time, the payoff in economic activity will be at least on the same scale as the cost imposed.

My other takeaway is that there’s not much room for all us softy social-science majors in this.  The green turnaround is going to be in the hands of the MBAs who run businesses, skilled blue-collar folks who can build stuff, and ridiculously smart people who know stuff like fluid dynamics and meteorology.  Concerned lefties with their BAs in Emotional Typology or Hobbes and Locke are in the bleachers for this very important game.

And the Answer is: No!

December 7, 2007

No Energy Bill for US!

The Democrats failed to attract any defectors, and the energy bill died a quick death — at least in its current form.

Look out for an anemic, flimsy alternative to happen, or for nothing at all.

When it comes to the environment, or to the war in Iraq, Democrats are basically Republicans, just with a bit of angst about it.

Cool Biz — What It Proves, and Could It Work Here?

October 3, 2007

Check out Cool Biz — it’s a program started up by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment. What does it do? Simple; it raises the thermostat in the summer. Offices set their summer indoor temps to 28C, or about 81F, instead of the typical 70F.

It’s the law in government buildings, and voluntary in others, but the majority of private sector buildings have bought in.

(We like saving energy, but 81F?  Gives me pause.)

So it’s a big-government environmental regulation, so therefore it must have had some crushing blow on some sector of the economy, right? Actually, true to form, the free market finds a way to create wealth from regulation — Despite the government specifically pushing a new no-tie-no-jacket office standard, a whole new industry of ultra-light business attire has come onto the scene. So instead of giving up their famously-traditional business suits, your classic (or stereotypical?) Japanese businessman can still dress the part.

That’s the moral of the story, economically: environmental regulations will require change, but the free market will spawn products and services to facilitate that change, and the economy will innovate into a more sustainable future. It happens all the time, in every aspect of society.

Could Cool Biz (Hot Office) work in the US?

It sure could, if we raised the temp to about 75F instead of 81F. But we could go up a few degrees, at least. Everybody’s had the experience of walking into a store out of a blisteringly-hot summer day and being shocked — not comforted, but hit — by a bracing cold blast. When it’s over 90F, nobody’s going to complain that a 75F store temperature isn’t cold enough. Plus, having just spent a DC summer with a sweater draped over my office chair for chilly August afternoons at work, I can safely say from personal experience that there’s room to burn less coal on summer air conditioning.

But could we go all the way to 81F? Nah — we’re a little too chubby a population to stay comfy over 80.

Is this a good target, strategically, for environmentalists in the US?  No.  It will reduce electricity demands, but it won’t make a huge impact on total consumption (it makes about a 0.5% impact in Japan, where people drive less), and it won’t do anything to impact the causes of the growth in our CO2 emissions.  Further, and more importantly, there are enough ways for us as a society to make bigger impacts (fuel efficiency, CFL’s, better transit, city planning, and community design) that pushing a plan to make 100 million Americans suffer through hot stuffy days at jobs that they already don’t like isn’t necessary.  The real risk is the pushback against this and against environmentalism in general.

The greatest misconception is that our standard of living will suffer with conservation efforts, and a massive sweaty-offices campaign by green groups would just feed that misconception and increase resistance against the cause.